When I was a volunteer dentist in Africa, I was amazed at all the beautiful teeth I was seeing. Children who had never been to the dentist before had textbook-perfect straight teeth, perfectly developed jaws, and wide smiles. These children had no cavities and passed their examinations with flying colors.
What was so different about these children? Why do so many Western children start getting cavities as toddlers? Of course, there are many factors that contribute to our oral health problems, including our diet of highly processed foods.
But there’s one thing these children never had that puts them light years ahead of Western children: the sippy cup.
It’s a childhood staple, but sippy cups do a lot of damage to children that isn’t worth the convenience.
How Sippy Cups Hurt Your Toddler
- Sippy cups prevent normal development. A mother’s nipple conforms to the child’s mouth, encouraging proper development of everything in and around the mouth — teeth, swallow reflex, oral cavity, jaw, and even airway. A child’s mouth responds differently to a plastic sippy cup or silicone nipple. These different sucking forces change a child’s development, and can lead to speech issues, a small airway, and crooked teeth.
- Sippy cups cause tooth decay and cavities. When it comes to cavities, what matters more is how long you expose your teeth to sugar, not as much the quantity of sugar. Sippy cups are loaded with sugary drinks like apple juice and milk, which erode tooth enamel.
- Sippy cups teach children unhealthy habits. Many of my adult patients tell me they sit at work with a Coke they sip all day long. I call this the adult version of the sippy cup comfort drink!
How to Go Sippy Cup Free in 4 Easy Steps
- Breastfeed as long as possible. It’s not always possible, but if this option is available to you for even a month or two, it will help your child’s development immensely. If you can’t breastfeed, there are other methods your dentist can help you with to ensure your child develops properly.
- Toss the sippy cup, and while you’re at it, the pacifier too. Use a BPA-free plastic cup instead. Handles help little hands as they transition from a bottle. Fill it part way to reduce spillage and roll up the carpets while your child is learning to use it.
- Make water the default. Sugary drinks like apple juice, although they’re natural, program the taste buds to crave more and more sugar. Help your children appreciate the taste of a delicious glass of water.
- Have sugary drinks during meals. Give your child apple juice and milk during meals, which is when saliva production is at its highest. Saliva acts as an acid neutralizer, protecting the teeth from decay. We used to dilute our daughters’ apple juice with water — just don’t let them see you do it!
Day care centers everywhere are starting to ask that toddlers not be dropped off with a sippy cup. The state of New York has even called for warning labels to be added to sippy cups.
What do you think? What’s your opinion on sippy cups? Does your child use one? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below.